Almost 15 years ago, our community began the task of redeveloping Pensacola’s waterfront.
Hurricane Ivan had irreparably damaged the Main Street Wastewater Treatment plant, which created an opportunity to revitalize and renew Pensacola’s downtown waterfront from the blighted, industrial uses of the past.
Community leaders had a vision of a vibrant accessible waterfront, where people could live, work, play and learn, and where young people would be able to find jobs and raise families of their own. These leaders knew what we are all now seeing – that the most critical resource for a community is not land, or money, or buildings – it is talent. The data is strong – capital follows talent, and talent follows place. If communities are going to thrive and compete, they simply must invest in making their cities and downtowns great places – to attract and retain the talent. Our younger generations of talent are clear in what they want in a place – vibrancy, affordability, opportunity, authenticity, safety.
Much has happened since that vision. While progress has not always been easy, this community continues to move forward. The most recent step forward was the approval of the Maritime Park rezoning recommended by the West Main Master Plan, unanimously passed by the City Council.
This plan, developed by some of the best urban designers, literally, in the world, sets the stage for Pensacola’s next chapter. The West Main Master Plan creates a consistent, predictable and cohesive roadmap for the continued development and preservation of the waterfront. Consistent with the community’s vision of 15 years ago, this plan will encourage people to live, work, and play in Pensacola. The plan was informed by transparent and inclusive community input, a marketability study, and past studies and plans. It directly speaks to the attraction and retention of talent – creating a mixed use, walkable, vibrant place that allows live, work and play in a downtown waterfront experience.
Like our past progress, the vision of the West Main Master Plan will not be realized overnight.
It is important to remember that all of the work over the past year on this master plan was just the preparation phase. Now the serious conversations can begin with investors, developers, and entrepreneurs – both local and national – who may have an interest in being part of this project. Early conversations with potential investors and developers shaped this path. They told us what we needed to do to get their interest – do the market research, create a master plan that established predictability and vibrancy (a sense of place) and then come talk to us.
The market research for the West Main Master Plan indicates that over the next 15-20 years, the buildout of the residential, retail, and entertainment spaces could cost over $500 million. Once completed, that amount of investment would generate approximately $10 million in property taxes per year, every single year.
That level of investment, financing, and construction will take significant time. So what happens next?
Over the next three to six months, real estate professionals will begin to market this project and these parcels to local and national developers and end-users. Should an offer be made on one of the project elements, there is typically another three to six months of due diligence, financing, and negotiation. If all goes well, specific lease proposals will then come before City Council for approval.
Once a lease is approved, engineering, design and architectural planning will begin, and that could take another year. Add on an additional two years for the actual construction, and we have a timeframe of three to four years before any part of the West Main Master Plan is complete.
There are still several unanswered questions that could impact this timeline. Those questions include the financial feasibility of these projects, whether a developer or investor can fund their proposed part of the plan, and whether public investment might be required to bring the West Main Master Plan to fruition.
Progress doesn’t come quickly, and sometimes it doesn’t come easily, either.
But thanks to this community’s resilience, and the support of our city leaders, the vision of a vibrant downtown waterfront is now one step closer to reality. A recent CivicCon speaker passionately educated us – practically begged us – to stay focused on who we are doing this for. Guess what? It is not us. It is for the next generation, and the ones to follow. I am so grateful to play a small part in making our community a place that my kids and theirs will want to call home. Let’s keep working on this journey together.
Andrew Rothfeder is president of Studer Properties where he manages the Studer’s portfolio of real estate properties, new development projects, and community redevelopment initiatives.
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